When I just started my blog, a dear friend of mine recommended me to write a ‘this is what I believe’-article, because they’re so powerful. It scared me, because I wasn’t really sure what I believed. The idea to permanently (as far as blogging is permanent) commit to a set of ideas freaked me out. But that was before I had my experience.
Since my experience, which I’ll reveal to you in a bit, I’ve been dying to tell people about what I believe. But I haven’t much yet, because it’s pretty out there and it’s pretty intense. But I’m on a ‘Feel the fear and then do it anyway’-roll, so here I go.
This is what I believe.
I believe we’re all one. Not in the New Agey, we’re all human, we’re all the same kind of way. I believe, or I know, that we are all literally one and the same consciousness. I know this, for a fact, with more certainty than I know anything in my life, because of something that happened two years ago.
My experience happened when me and my newly-wed husband were living in Vietnam. It was hot, we were broke, and we were basically stuck in crazily chaotic Saigon. We could have made the best of our time there, but as many seasoned travelers know, sometimes a place isn’t working for you in that moment. So we stayed in a lot. We had one tiny room which was for 80% filled with a huge bed and for 20% with a big but weak airconditioner. I laid there on that bed, reading, for days on end.
The book that I was reading was called The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, and I was so captivated by it that I recall it as if I was reading for a week straight. It’s only 147 pages long, so I know that can’t be true, but all I remember is being sweaty and mind-blowingly engrossed in that book.
What it’s about no-one can lucidly explain, I suppose that’s because it depends on your level of consciousness what you get out of it, but for me it essentially described how we’re all one. It read about how the white between the letters you’re reading make up the words just as much as the black, and how the silence between the notes make up the music just as much as the sounds, and suddenly… I didn’t exist anymore. I was just as much the bed and the air and the room as that I was what I used to think of as ‘me’, and for what was probably just a few minutes or maybe even seconds, I was literally mind-blown.
I didn’t exist.
And then I thought “I get it!!!” and I snapped out of it, because there “I” was again.
Now, two years and a whole lot of spiritual texts later, I can describe my experience a lot better, but back then the only descriptions I had for it were 1) that I didn’t exist for a moment, 2) that I was everything as well as nothing, and 3) that it was the realest thing I’d ever experienced. It was like when you have a super realistic dream, and while you’re dreaming you have no idea it’s a dream, but when you wake up you immediately know that it wasn’t reality. No matter how life-like a dream was, it’s utterly clear which was the dream and which is real life the second you wake up.
Same with my experience. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I knew with every cell of my body that that was real.
Which makes our everyday life some sort of dream. An illusion. A mistake?
The spiritual training I’d had until that point consisted of some self-help books and a course in Buddhism at university (which is a very rational place to study spirituality by the way). Zen was very popular around me and wherever I looked for answers, the responses confirmed that all that really matters is that stillness, that oneness, that glimpse of enlightenment I’d had back in Vietnam.
That bummed me out. For a few months after the experience I was confused. I knew that it was the realest thing I’d ever felt, but what does that make of everyday life?
Why participate in this illusion? Why go to university if this life isn’t reality? Why do I still have the motivation to work if this is isn’t the real Truth? And most of all, Why do I feel so in love with life, to the point of being overwhelmed with emotion when I see an elderly couple happily holding hands if this all of this separation is a misconception?
My first jump towards understanding was when I discovered the audio lectures of Ram Dass. He didn’t talk about oneness all that much, but he was the first spiritual teacher on my path who didn’t negate the everyday experience of life, but actively participated in it, cultivated love for it and in it, and used the day-to-day as pathway to the Divine. He practices a form of bhakti (devotional) yoga that works intensely with Love. Listening to his talks while walking out in nature filled me with a bliss and a zest for life that I had come to think of as unworthy and in the way of spiritual progress. It was such an incredible relief for me to at least accept the illusion of everyday life as something beautiful, as something worth loving. To this day I have two photos of Ram Dass on my altar, and I can’t even begin to describe how much his words have changed my life.
My next jump unfolded from a curiosity towards my own body that blossomed when I stopped taking hormonal birth control. I realized that because of artificially suppressing my menstruation cycle for years, I had no idea what it biologically, psychologically, and spiritually really meant to have a woman’s body. I started tracking my cycle, noticing my ups and downs in energy, creativity, outgoing-ness and inward-ness, my connection to Spirit and my intuition throughout the month, and the connection of all this to the seasons and the moon. I was in awe with the subtleties of change in my body and the power of learning to tune into it. I began to fall in love with myself. I had already become more sensitive and self-aware since picking up Ashtanga yoga half a year earlier, and now I started to see my body as a beautiful instrument guiding me through life, instead of something that’s grossly physical and in the way of spiritual progress as some ascetics do. This strengthened my feeling of love for ‘the illusion’, for the physical, for everyday life even more.
And then I discovered Tantra.
(Which has nothing to do with sex by the way. Well, mostly nothing).
Especially helpful was a specific form of Tantra called Shaivism. Almost to the day two years since the experience, I fully understood what had happened and what it meant for me. I had already learned that ‘I didn’t exist’ is what they call being in unity consciousness, the highest form of samadhi or enlightenment, that it’s the endgoal for every religion or spiritual practice in the world. I knew that, but.. why had it happened to me? Why then? Why in that way? I wasn’t even meditating. I was reading a copy of The Book that I had illegally downloaded onto my e-reader. I was hot and frustrated and not one bit Zen at all. So what now? Should I try that again? Should I try to not try since that’s ego’s craving? What does this longing to it mean? I had no idea what to make of it.
But then I read about shaktipat, or the spontaneous rise of kundalini (spiritual awareness or awakening energy) that draws one to the spiritual path. It’s almost like a call from God —or Goddess— that some people get. You see, in Shaivism there are actually a god and a goddess, but neither sit on a cloud judging us. One of the things I loved about Hinduism right away (Hinduism is such a broad term and includes so many spiritual practices and philosophies that it doesn’t specify much, but let’s keep it simple), is that they’re totally clear that god is not a person-like thing. It’s a field of consciousness, BUT, because it’s not much fun to talk to a field, it’s a very helpful spiritual tool to personify god(dess) into someone you can cultivate a relationship with.
So, God, or Shiva, as they personify him into, is the field of consciousness, pure awareness in which everything manifests. Goddess, or Shakti, is the creative power or energy that makes up everything within that consciousness. Makes sense? So.. you are Shakti. Your body, your thoughts, your ego, your everything, is divine. The part that knows, your soul (for lack of better English word), the witness inside, is Shiva. Everything you see is Shakti, and everything you see is in Shiva.
Now what Shaivists know (and what I believe too) to be the true reality, is Unity, the Oneness I experienced, or Nonduality. They say that that is where Shiva and Shakti are merged into one (hence the name Shaivism).
There are many, many religions and philosophies that believe in a nondual oneness as the ultimate reality, but in Shaivism I found a way which deeply honors the manifested as well as the unmanifest pure consciousness. I want to love life. I want to be in awe with nature, deeply love my husband, be filled with bliss, create beauty, cultivate compassion, and in that way honor the divine feminine, or Goddess, or Shakti. Just as much as I’ve honored pure consciousness, or Shiva, since my awakening, or saktipat, in Vietnam.
So this is what I believe. And this is why I’m on the spiritual path. This is why my sadhana, or spiritual practice, starts the second I wake up and ends when I fall asleep at night. (I haven’t gotten into sleep yoga yet.) This is why I love to read scriptures, listen to spiritual teachers, do Ashtanga yoga, meditate, perform rituals, connect with nature, do little acts of self-love, cultivate loving relationships, and spend my days in a constant state of mindfullness and/or self-inquiry.
This is what I know to be true.
Please reach out to me if you’ve had an awakening experience yourself, however profound it was, I would love to hear it!
Further reading for fellow seekers:
If you got curious about Ram Dass, check out:
my favorite recording of his: Love, Service, Devotion, and the Ultimate Surrender: Ram Dass on the Bhagavad Gita (no knowledge of the Gita is required)
Experiments in Truth is phenomenal as well, and he has a ton of talks on YouTube.
His book that started it all is called Be Here Now.
If you were intrigued by my menstrual revolution, read:
Code Red by Lisa Lister
Moon Time by Lucy H. Pearce
If you got excited about Shaivism, read:
Meditation for the Love of it by Sally Kempton for a gentle introduction
Tantra Illuminated by Christopher D. Wallis, for the practitioner and scholar alike
If you’re curious about how you can turn your spirituality from a certain moment of the day into a way of living, feel free to reach out to see how I can help. Books that may inspire you are Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver (the subtitle is ‘Letting the Divine Take the Lead’, but I think there should be a second subtitle saying: ‘God is hilarious’. Light, funny, all time favourite little book).
The Yoga of Discipline by Swami Chidvilasananda was a game-changer too.
I am in no way affiliated with these books. I just like drowning you in resources 🙂